New Ways for Schools to Reward Student Achievement

Students deserve to be rewarded for their achievements, especially if they have worked hard to get them. They need to know that there are tangible benefits for doing the right thing, and a small slice of instant gratification is far more appealing than the rather nebulous promise of future workplace success.

Schools commonly try to recognize achievers through end of year prize-giving ceremonies, leadership positions (prefectures and school councils, for instance), and spotlighted awards during assemblies. But these are by no means the only ways that students can be acknowledged for their effort and successes. Here are five alternative strategies that may help students to understand that striving for personal excellence is a worthwhile goal.


CAP stands for ‘Cultural, Academic, and Physical’, the three different domains of achievement, and also for the physical prize awarded to successful students. To qualify, a student does not necessarily have to excel, but their effort does need to be exemplary across all three domains. Their reward is a custom-made fashion accessory that will not be given to all, and so will have great prestige. The idea of CAPs is to recognize that there are many ways of achieving great things at school, and that it is possible for any student to prosper in many different activities.

Cultural achievement refers to great results in music, drama, debating, art, or community projects; Academic, to good results in mainstream courses; and Physical, to representation on school teams or a commitment to sportsmanship in gym classes.

The practice of awarding caps for high level success is common in sport, from its original application in English soccer, to the still current honor given to Australian cricketers. Schools can afford to adopt the tradition too, as customizable caps can readily be acquired for less than $10. If this still sounds a lot, consider that fewer than fifty students may receive the award. Of course, if the programme achieves its intended aim of driving hundreds of students to succeed in areas where they have previously struggled, then that is still a small price to pay.

Hall of Fame

A corridor located in a prominent position – adjacent to the principal’s office or the school cafeteria, for example – can be designated as the students’ Hall of Fame. Many schools already do this, by proudly displaying photographs of their high achieving students. This is not necessarily the best policy, however, as students can be nervy about their appearance and about how other students might see them. This same reluctance to be in the spotlight can sometimes be seen during award presentations at assemblies, when students who should feel honoured slouch their way towards the stage instead.

The Hall of Fame idea can be given a twist, however, by presenting offbeat representations of the praiseworthy students. Put their head on the body of a celebrity or cartoon character, or, if there is a talented artist at the school, create and post sketches of the students. If their photograph is being used, try to feature it as part of a faux magazine cover. Much of this depends on the culture at any particular school, but the focus should always be on presenting award winners in a way that seems fun and desirable.

Media reports

Share the good news with the community by honouring students in the media. Many local newspapers or radio stations are happy to give a little time or space to content of this kind. If these positive reports are also written or presented by students, then there is more than one benefit as a result.

Special morning tea

Students love to eat! Every week, a special morning tea could be set out for students who have achieved in one or more of the CAP domains. Cakes and other tasty treats acknowledge great efforts in a way that is sure to be appreciated. As an extra benefit, the spread could be shared with a nominated teacher, which is a positive way of building relationships and rewarding proactive members of staff.

Choosing the work

The greatest reward any school or teacher can bestow on students is to give them a great and well-rounded education. If an entire group has been performing well, the students could be offered a field trip of their choice that was somehow tied in to their learning. As a less costly alternative, they could be shown how to devise their own projects. This may not seem like much of a reward, but it can give students a pleasing sense of their own independence and maturity. While this strategy is helping them to acquire life-long skills, many students will gladly accept the opportunity to have a break from regular teaching, and take control of their own learning instead.

By offering students a treat or accolade of some kind, schools can also gain. A small, simple gesture which says “thank you” or “well done” can help to nurture a sense of belonging within a school, while a more substantial prize can spur students towards greater achievement.